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Kimberly CharlesKimberly Charles, Director of Digital Communications for the University of Illinois at Chicago, is one of the 12 presenters of the 2019 Higher Ed WEBSITES Conference.

In this 3-question interview, Kimberly tells us about the worst and best web trends in higher ed, a great tool and shares a top 3 of favorite higher ed websites.

1) What are the worst and best design trends used on higher ed websites?

The worst design trend is the “read more” or “learn more” (or as seen on University of California, Irvine, just “learn”) link – we’ve finally learned not to use “click here,” but we haven’t made much progress. Ambiguous link text is bad for both usability and accessibility. Users that scan pages for links either visually or with assistive technology have no context by which to judge a link that is ambiguous. Think of your links as a call to action.

DePaul University uses contextual learn more links on their homepage. In the “We Are DePaul” section they have “Learn more about Life at DePaul” and “Learn more about Chicago” – these are very specific and let the user know what they can expect to find when clicking through those links. Higher Education websites should aspire to be the most accessible and usable examples of good web design as one indicator that everyone is welcome on our campus.

Best design trend is a commitment to mobile-first, clean design with impactful images and streamlined navigation. The best of these designs gracefully expand for tablet and desktop with lots of white space and images that become more beautiful and relevant at full size.

2) What are your top 3 favorite higher ed websites?

UC Davis
I often look at the top schools in the University of California system since they consistently have multiple schools among the top 20 public universities. One design element that stood out for me is the strip of icons below the homepage “Explore our Campus” video. These call-to-action links encompass the top questions that prospective students have in their first investigations of schools that would be a good fit for them: Majors, Academics, Cost, Calendar, Visit, Apply. It is valuable to have those links appear high on the page with simple, user-friendly language. And on mobile they look even better since they are immediately visible. The Majors page is simple, searchable and references a blog “What Can I do with My Major?” This is great information to make accessible to prospective students.

Kansas University
This was one of the first public research universities to tackle the challenge of bringing their many school and department websites into a consistent design and navigation scheme. They were an inspiration as we tried to wrangle the wild west of our sites. Their initiative was supported from the top down and they clearly communicated their plan to the entire campus community. It helped us to create a model for our efforts to bring consistency across our sites.

The University of Arizona, Tucson
Similar to the UC Davis site, Arizona puts call-to-action links for Majors & Degrees, Cost & Aid, Visit and Request Info just beneath their large header image. In addition, they have a content block on the home page titled “Prepare for Tomorrow” which highlights various career services they offer. Making this information a high priority for their prospective students is valuable and demonstrates a commitment to serving their students beyond the classroom and recognizing their long-term needs from their education.

3) What’s your favorite tool for your web work?

New to me is using Jira an issue and project tracking tool for managing development of our custom WordPress multisite. Having been more on the content & branding side of website development, I was new to agile development and project tracking for websites/software. What has made it valuable is that it allows us to think about our project in incremental steps, with accountability and metrics to show our progress in meeting the requirements of our content managers. It provides me the opportunity to define the user requirements and needs to the developers to help them quickly understand the purpose and use of new features and functions for the platform. We can break large requests into sub-tasks, think about the amount of work/time it will take to complete them, and force us to prioritize so that we aren’t distracted by each new request.

A conference focusing on higher ed WEBSITES?

The 2019 Higher Ed WEBSITES Conference is a must-attend event for higher ed web professionals and teams looking for inspiration, ideas and best practices to kick off their summer projects.

Read below what a few of your higher ed colleagues who attended the 1st edition of the Higher Ed WEBSITES Conference say about the experience.

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